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The Seductive Myth of Closure
Old Relationships and New Years
For you, dikra, cousin of my heart.
I’m writing this on 16 August, Parsi New Year.
Like many religions whose methods of demarcating time are based as much on tradition as on astronomy, Zoroastrianism has a confusion of calendars. While Persians celebrate the New Year in alignment with nature, on 21 March, the first day of boreal spring, the main Parsi (Indian Zoroastrian) celebration falls today, amid the dog days of an August heatwave that has bleached the lush greens of our neighbouring Epping Forest to the pallor of straw. And a couple of weeks ago, I ended a two-year relationship—out with the old, with no certainty of what the new will bring.
Although the phenomenon I am about to describe here is something I’ve felt bone-deep myself, on many occasions, this isn’t primarily about my recent break-up. Things have ended with amicable relative equanimity. It was an inevitable, unavoidable split. But another close friend of mine is currently struggling to accept the circumstances of his own break-up and that inspired this post.
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If you’re going through heartbreak, it’s tempting to grasp at the idea that if only you had closure, you could find solace. It’s easy to deceive yourself into thinking that if you only knew precisely why your partner has decided to end things, if you could make them explain it to your satisfaction, you would be able to accept it and find peace. But first, ask yourself, is your sorrow really the result of a lack of knowledge—or are you mourning the loss of love, love that no explanation can restore? Richard Feynman’s advice is particularly apt here: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” There is probably no area of human life in which this is more true than in love. In affairs of the heart, self-serving rationalisations abound.
Many people, when they ask for closure, are actually hoping that, if they force their partner to explicate their reasons for leaving, they will somehow be able to demonstrate that the partner’s reasoning is faulty and that therefore they should stay. This almost never works: most people do not end relationships on the basis of a calculation. Then there are some who think they want closure but actually simply cannot relinquish intimacy and therefore keep on demanding explanations simply to prolong the relationship, even in this unhealthy form—the request for closure is often an excuse for obsessive and stalker-adjacent behaviour.
Then there are more seemingly valid reasons for demanding explanations. Many people say that they want to understand what mistakes they made, in order to avoid them in future. There can be value in this, but it is limited. Sometimes we can identify patterns, of course. But we overestimate, I believe, just how different we are with different people. Relationships can be as deceptive in this as that optical illusion in which two dove grey squares of the same shade look very different: the one in shadow appears pale, while the other looks dark in the light. Only by removing the context and looking directly can we see that the two are identical. We can also think of a person in a relationship as behaving like a note in music. The same A makes a very different sound on the violin and on the trombone, as each instrument changes which harmonics we hear and their relative strength and prominence. It matters where we are placed, how we are played.
I suspect, too, that many people do not really know why they are leaving a relationship. They are driven by an inchoate but powerful sense of unhappiness. The disintegration of love can happen by slow degrees: a gradual buckling, fraying, chafing, until something tears or snaps. Our reasons for being drawn to someone are not rational: our reasons for fleeing may not be either. And even if the reasons seem superficially clear, there is always an unsatisfying residue of bafflement. I know why I ended my own relationship at one level. But unanswerable questions remain. Why couldn’t we make it work? When I try to unravel that tangle, sooner or later I always come to a stubborn knot that resists the most skilful fingers. It can only be cut, snipped cleanly through with the true but unsatisfying explanation that we weren’t right for each other.
When a relationship ends, we often look helplessly to the other person to heal the pain that they have caused. We hope that something they say or do can bring us peace, as if they were withholding a magical elixir—a kind of Alice in Wonderland bottle labelled drink me that would change our perspective, enable us to grow heart-whole again if only we could prize it from them. But in fact closure can only come from within. If you believe you cannot find peace unless someone else grants it to you, all you will do is retard your healing. You have the tools you need already to create your own closure: time and patience. And, in the lieu of magic potions, perhaps a few Tequilas.
For only time—or a new love—will ease the phantom limb pain of a relationship that still hurts although it is over. Only time—or the advent of a new partner—will exorcise the troublesome ghost of a lover poltergeisting around in the brain. We can displace the heartbreak or let it fade. But there are no magic words that can banish it.
There’s no fixed moment at which closure will arrive. But, luckily, new beginnings are equally arbitrary. You might as well treat the fiction of a beginning as we do when we rely on the calendar: take a day no different from any other and make it your first of January. The Parsi New Year is called Navroze, which means “new day.” The Zoroastrian year is barely a week old now, still as unscuffed as a pair of shop-fresh trainers. Even if you aren’t Parsi, I offer it to you as a fresh start, if you need one. If, like me, you are feeling heartbroken, climb aboard my rocket ship, take another trip around our star with me and let’s begin the healing process.
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